Roberta 'Bobbi' Gibb, fifty years and more, by Sharon Barbano


roberta gibbs paper.jpgThis was the newspaper that many awoken to, noting that a woman had run the marathon. When coaches of the time, such as Percy Cerutty, the famed coach of Herb Elliott, noted that women who could run a sub five minute mile or sub three hour marathon were "less than a woman", and other medical experts spoke of prolapsed uteri, Roberta 'Bobbi' Gibb was pretty damn alone in 1966, when she ran Boston for the first time. I equate Bobbi Gibb with the woman in the suffragette society (hence the homage to Susan B. Anthony in the title), as she not only challenged norms, but, with 164,000 women following her lead in Boston, Bobbi Gibb changed lives.

Here is a wonderful feature on Bobbi by Sharon Barbano, another trailblazer in womensports. This is Sharon's first piece for RunBlogRun, and I hope that she will write more for us.

Updated April 20, 2016: At the final press conference of the BAA Boston Marathon for 2016, Atsede Baysa gave her newly won Boston Marathon trophy to Bobbi Gibb. In her own way, Atsede was overcome in hearing the story about Bobbi's Boston run in 1966. Now, fifty years later, the women who dared all, including possible body part collapse, to run her favorite marathon.

Enjoy Sharon's story.

On April 19, 1966, Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb stood at the Hopkinton Town Common wrapped in a navy-blue hooded sweatshirt. A few months earlier she had written to the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) requesting an application to run the Boston Marathon. She was quickly denied−she was a woman after all. The Boston Marathon, sanctioned by the Amateur Athletics Union, prohibited women from racing more than 1.5 miles. Anything longer for women, especially 26.2 miles, could mean serious injury, a dropped uterus, and yes, possibly even death, they claimed.

Gibb_BobbyHS-Boston16.JPGRoberta 'Bobbi' Gibb, April 2016, photo by

Yet, for two years Gibb had already been running two-to-three hours a day, inspired by watching the 1964 Boston Marathon. After all those miles, she was still injury-free, her girl parts were just fine and best of all−she wasn't dead. "How could I prove I could do something if I wasn't allowed to try?" Gibb wondered in desperation. Standing on the Town Common, her hood pulled up tight to conceal her ponytail, Bobbi Gibb was very much alive−and dead set to run the 1966 Boston Marathon.

It was befitting that Gibb found a spot to hide near the start line behind a stand of forsythia bushes. In addition to being a symbol for fresh beginnings and the onset of spring, Forsythia holds the symbolic meaning of anticipation. Gibb crouched and waited behind the bright yellow flowers, anticipating what her 26.2 mile road trip would mean for women everywhere. "I've always been a rebel," Gibb told me at the B.A.A. press event honoring her for being the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon. "Women were confined. Women baked cookies; they didn't run marathons. I believed that by running the marathon I could not only open up the floodgates for other women to run, but make many other social norms regarding women's limitations obsolete."

Gibb ran every step of the way, anticipating not only the finish line but what her presence would mean for the future of women. When she finished in 3:21:40, beating two-thirds of the field, Massachusetts Governor Volpe congratulated her and the press mobbed her. Yet when she followed the other runners to an underground garage for the traditional postrace meal, she was denied access. That day she may have gone home hungry, but today she is fulfilled in so many ways.

"I'm so thankful for all that has happened in women's running," says Gibb. Fifty years ago, she may have been the lone female running the Boston Marathon but since then over 164,000 women have crossed the finish line on Boylston Street. This year alone, 14,000 women will start the race; that's nearly half of the entire field.

As the quote goes, "good things come to those who wait." As in the forsythia's case, if you wait patiently, you'll be rewarded with beautiful yellow flowers and a cooling sight of green leaves. Gibb has waited long enough to break the finishing tape at the Boston Marathon. It's time.

For the 120th race, Gibb has been named Grand Marshall by the B.A.A. She'll be driven along the marathon course in a red convertible, her long red hair freely blowing in the wind. When she does arrive at Boylston Street, the B.A.A. has arranged a special ceremony just for her. She's been invited to finally run across the Boston Marathon finish line, breaking a custom-made tape that reads "Bobbi Gibb Pioneer." They might even hand her a bouquet of forsythias celebrating her long-awaited triumph.

Leave a comment

Wake up to RunBlogRun's news in your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter and we'll keep you informed about the Sport you love.

Subscribe to RunBlogRun's Global News Feed

* indicates required